Street life on Jemaa El Fna reflects a diversity of Moroccan culture
Written by Per: The big market place Jemaa El Fna is in many ways the hearth of Marrakech Medina. As the morning man that I am, I love to seek this central hearth every morning at sunrise, roughly at about 6.00. Walking down the nearly deserted and narrow streets is fascinating and meditative. I marvel at the city`s closed character and its many shades of brown and ocher. In a couple of hours the streets will completely change their appearance when all the storages and shops opens and the people line the streets.
I pas a couple of the city`s many toilers who are responsible for getting rid of garbage and a very old woman sitting with her little mug hoping for a gift. She could be my age, but I am sure she has lived a much harder life than I can ever imagine. Some donkey’s screams while their owners are sitting down drinking their tea. A polite nod and a smile follow me as I walk towards Jemaa El Fna and the coffee shops opening around 6.00. I get noticed when I appears on the terrace in front of the café with all it`s local guest at this time of day.
I take up my book from my bag and the waiter is already on his way. With a nearly invisible nod he signals that he have seen me. A cup of black, strong coffee and a croissant came quickly on the table together with a glass of water. Its like a delicious dream to sit right here in the morning sun sending her first rays into the Jemaa El Fna. In the distant I can see the contours of the Atlas Mountains.
It is possible that I have a distinctive look or the waiter here have a memory like an elephant. The second morning I appeared he saluted me with a soft bend in the hip while he hold a finger in the air. I just nodded and suddenly the coffee and croissant was put in front of me. This morning we exchanged pleasantries and after the third morning it was time for a more serious conversation. How many children, wives do you have, what kind of work do you do and of course which part of the world do you come from? My new friend was a Berber as most people in Morocco, about 65 % of the population. I always get in a special mood when I sit there on Jemaa El Fna and admire the silhouette of the big mosque and listen to the prayers from the minarets. I am really a part of the city waking up.
In just a few hours the market place will be filled with jugglers, snake charmers, cheap jewelry sellers, wagons with fruits and sweets and infinitely many tourists. Jemaa El Fna has its own circadian rhythms. Dating back to the 1100s the marketplace has been a center for dissemination of Moroccan culture. Medicine men, storytellers, dancers and musicians gathers in Jemaa El Fnaa to the people`s amusement. For both locals and tourists this is the main meeting point in Marrakech.
Around Jemaa El Fna are café shops and restaurants where you can enjoy your mint tea, get freshly squeezed juice or a glass of beer, some places and look at the crowd on the square. Marrakech and Jemaa El Fna are considered pretty safe, except for pickpockets. But in 2011 a bomb detonated in Argana café facing the square. 17 people were killed and 25 wounded. You can read more about this here.
Within a few hours during late afternoon the place change its character completely. Jemaa El Fna turns into the worlds largest, outdoor food market. In more than a 100 dining booths they are busy grilling, cooking and roasting. In the dark the square gets a mysterious tint while cooking odors and smoke is dense and the waiters all try to convince you to eat at just their place, its absolutely the best! When visiting Marrakech it is a must to eat on Jemaa El Fna at least once. There are of course no serving of alcohol, but the food is very good, fresh and exciting. You can buy a lot of different small dishes and taste your way to your favorite dish. Some might be skeptical to eating at such a place, thinking that the demands for hygiene are different from what we are just to back home. But I have never noticed any problems after a tasteful meal in these lovely, but chaotic circumstances at Jemaa El Fna.
Jemaa El Fna is a square and a market place situated in the southern part of Marrakech Medina. Marrakech was founded already in 1070. Jemaa El Fna has existed all this years, but in different forms. He whole Medina in Marrakech is on UNESCO’S World Heritage List. Jemaa El Fna is devoted special attention in ENESCO’S project for preservation of intangible heritage since 2008.